India is the most populous democracy in the world. India is also inching towards becoming the second largest smartphone country. In many ways the internet and social media have defined the political narrative of this country. Very few people have been levers to this era of change. It is safe to count Ankit Lal, a social media strategist with Aam Aadmi Party and the author of India Social as one of its key drivers and early adopters.
While the most populous democracy goes to vote, in this series of ‘Future of Work’ we talk to Ankit Lal about social media as a profession and what will being successful here, involve? With his many anecdotes and examples, Ankit delves into a wide range of subjects from social media and politics as a career for the country’s youth in this interview. Read on if you want to know more about what really happens behind the scenes.
What is the ‘Future of Work’ according to you?
The future of work will be very interesting and I believe that a lot of monotonous tasks will be automated and mechanised. Repetitive tasks will be outsourced to machines. If we look at the very long term, say 100-150 years down the line, I think, many of these tasks would be outsourced to other planets as well. For example manufacturing of mundane products can actually be shifted to another planet!
Do you think social media will be a lucrative career choice 5 years down the line?
It is pretty much obvious that social media will be a career option for the next few years, if not decades. The prime reason being that the internet has changed the way we operate over the past ten years. It is like when printing machines were invented. The before and after were entirely different. There was a huge change in the way information was transferred between individuals. Social media, today is a way of life and how we incorporate use it is our prerogative as a society as a whole. We as a species will learn…
Is a social media expert only as good as the platform? What makes for a great social media expert/ strategist?
Platforms come and go, networks remain. For example, between 2005 and 2007, Orkut and Myspace were popular; now they are not. People’s usage patterns change. I would not be surprised if ten years down the line, Facebook seizes to exist, but there will be some new platform which people will use to communicate. Earlier, we had landline phones, now we have mobile phones for communication.
I really don’t think anyone is an expert on social media. Everybody has to learn every day. The word ‘expert’ is subjective in my opinion. I don’t say I am an expert as there is something I might know, something I may not. I am not that good at Snap Chat for example. But, having an overview of how people communicate is more important, that is how you eventually have to own the narrative. The basic rules of communication and marketing remain the same. The way those rules are used differs from platform to platform.
Social media is not just about communication or tech, it is the intersection of various subjects. Psychology is an important factor into how humans behave, depending on the kind of information that is received. So, it is very important to have tech, content as well as video production and graphics making skills. Let me explain this with an example. On September 2014, we as a party (AAP), had not performed very well in the Lok Sabha elections and our leader had been tagged with several nicknames, including ‘muffler man.’ We used the same term and flipped it with a personal connotation and people picked it up. It is now a case study. It trended for 19 days, out of which for 12 days it was the #1 trending topic in India on Twitter. Frankly, we don’t know how it happened either! It just did. We just kept pushing out new content, but beyond a point, it took a life of its own. So, something that was thrown at us in a negative manner just became an opportunity (the story goes that someone in my team created a banner, we liked it and just put it out there). So it is a combination of real time decisions, a hunch and an understanding that something might click. A major advantage which we have (which many people working in corporate roles, don’t), is the leverage to make mistakes and to experiment. Social media can have its do’s and don’ts, but you cannot have guidelines cast in stone for social media. You just can’t have that and be successful at the same time.
What are some of the evolving skill-sets for social media in the future?
One skill-set, of course is an understanding of videos and how video communication works. Especially in India, over the last two years, video consumption has grown manifold. Live video feeds have grown exponentially. Understanding how video communication works would be very crucial in the coming years. It is a difficult skill set to cultivate. People do have a knack for it, but it is an evolving technique and everyday new camera technologies are coming up. The idea with social media is, it has to be real time. Within our team, we define real time as 11 minutes. If an event is reported within 11 minutes of the event happening, it is real time. If it is beyond that time frame, then it is deferred reporting. For newspapers it is a day, for news channels it might be an hour, but on social media real time is 11 minutes. So, the intersection of how to use video equipment and still provide an output within the stipulated time-frame, is the challenge and the most required skill set in the current day and age. Apart from that, basic understanding of communication will always be the basic requirement. Having a human perspective is the most important requirement in social media. As the usage of smartphones grows, these skill-sets will be more readily available. It will resemble a citizen reporting scenario which will work well.
You handle social media for a political party. Is politics a lucrative career for our youth?
Politics, without a doubt, has to become a career choice for the youth at some point. However, I am not sure about that right now, because, with the Indian scenario, political funding works differently. When you are younger, in India, you are expected to earn for your family and at that point, if you take a political plunge, it is next to impossible to get a livelihood out of it. The point is, it does not pay till you become something. Right now, youth in politics is defined as up to 55 years – which is not exactly youth. In a general career path you are then at the verge of retirement. So, that has to change.
The German system, I believe is a much better system, because they have a stipend based system and the political funding is centralised by the Government.
In our case, politicians have to worry about how their families will be run – especially when they are young. That is not the case in Germany as the society takes care of the primary financial needs. They have an elaborate system and we don’t have that – but we are a large country and a different beast. This question has to be thought from a much deeper scale, but yes, this is important.
Right now, even from our educated youth, the only ones contesting (even in colleges), are mostly from a political lineage and they have the money to spend. We have to make it a level playing field. Those are larger questions we must answer – the ‘we’ here is the election commission, the political parties – all have to come together to effect a change.
Do you think social media will shape the political narrative going forward – especially in the context of the upcoming elections? Also, how can citizen advocacy take place on social media?
Social media started as a citizen platform initially. Political parties started using it because they saw citizens are on it. If a platform, for example, has a 1,00,000 people, parties may not really care for it owing to how large a country we are. Very few platforms can say we have a billion members who are regularly interacting on the platform – of course, the party would be interested to use that platform. It is a very platform to platform approach. For example, no party is officially present on TikTok. There is some content going around, but it is user generated. But, Twitter is a great platform for political advocacy.
Can you talk of fake news? How is it being curbed currently?
The problem with fake news is not of fake news itself. The problem is twofold.
a) When fake news is included in something which is actually correct, it becomes very tough to decipher
b) When people intentionally forward fake news
Technology can create the guidelines and be an enabler, not the tool itself. For example WhatsApp forwards are limited to 5 in India and it is the only country where such a restriction exists. At some level, human discretion is required. You can’t automate ideation.
What would your ideal social media platform look like?
There is no ideal platform. There are platforms for different kinds of use cases. For example, WhatsApp caters to a different audience, and Facebook and Instagram are for different audiences. Even a platform like TikTok has a use case, which upfront does not seem to serve any purpose! But it has a target audience. For example: There is an Amazon for billionaires. Where one can buy a jet or ranch or island. That has a use case too. The point is, any platform which is designed with a use case and audience in mind, can become successful and useful.
What kind of work will a social media expert of the future do?
The ideal social media expert of the future will be a one man/ woman army. Somebody who knows how to work in a team, but at the same time, can write content, edit content and videos, run ads and make videos. Also, Social media does not have fixed work hours.
Social media has changed the way people look at work. Social media as in tech. 30 years earlier, it was impossible to imagine that ‘work from home’ could be an option. Now so many of us are freelancing and earning real money. With social media, freelancers will be empowered more and more. This interesting intersection of technology and psychology, will drive the way communication happens. In the coming years, I see us using a lot more of 3D or virtual reality. For example, wearing 3D glasses and witnessing your favourite leader speak, live among the audience. Or, taking a selfie using an app, with someone who is not with you (I am testing this as we speak). With social media you have to evolve every 6 months and to evolve as an expert, even the technology has to and does evolve.
Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series.
Published Date: Apr 18, 2019 02:04 PM | Updated Date: Apr 18, 2019 03:04 PM IST